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Hospitals are in the business of curing what ails their patients, but in 2006 about 19 out of every 1,000 patients developed an infection while being treated at Pennsylvania hospitals.

This data, released last Thursday by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, is the group's second state-wide report on hospital-acquired infections.

The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania averaged about 30 infections per 1,000 patients.

The total number of reported infections statewide in 2006 - 30,237 - is up from 19,154 in 2005, but the collection process is still being refined and officials say the increase is likely due in part to more accurate hospital reports.

"At this point people should resist comparing hospitals and drawing general conclusions about the quality of healthcare," said Stephanie Suran, a spokeswoman for PHC4. But after data collection methods have improved, these statistics "should be used to see trends in hospitals over time," she said.

The report split hospitals into different "peer groups" based on the size of the hospitals and the types of operations and treatments performed there.

For hospitals in HUP's peer group, the average was about 23 infections per 1,000 patients.

HUP's high number is likely due in part to the complex operations performed at the hospital. Patients who need complicated procedures are often transferred to HUP from nearby hospitals, according to Patrick Brennan, senior vice president of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.

Although hospital variety and differences in reportage quality affect the report's results, the data can be useful to both patients and heath care providers, Suran said.

"They can be used so patients ask questions," she said. "The important thing about the report is that it can help hospitals and patients engage in dialogue."

Brennan also expressed support for the report, saying hospitals can see what they should work to improve.

HUP has introduced "new products, processes and approaches to assessing infections" with a special focus on decreasing rates of blood stream infections as a result of the 2005 report, he said.

The report "reaches the public and is reflected back on us with questions from patients," Brennan added. "It holds us accountable and that is a good thing."

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